(The fifth in a series of articles detailing the Ten Critical Components for Success in Special Finance)

The special finance sales process starts with the telephone, and unfortunately, more often than not, it stops there as well. 

It really doesn’t matter whether you are working Internet leads or conventional phone traffic; simply put, you will have more contact via phone than you will face-to-face. Whether you are working a blended floor or a department within a store, whether the calls are inbound or outbound, this contact is essential for sales success, and you must realize that for SF, what takes place is totally different than a conventional sales call.

Before we start, a key question becomes who will be making or taking those calls? The SF manager? I hope not; he or she cannot possibly handle them all. The dealership’s sales personnel? If so, who is going to train and coach them? Hopefully your answer is a call center or business development center (BDC), which incidentally also must be trained and coached.

Why a call center or BDC, you ask? It is simple. Most sales personnel forget the purpose of the call – to set an appointment that will show up at the dealership. They start selling vehicles, prices, interest rates, you name it. They just can’t help themselves. Even if you have some very telephone-capable salespeople, in most organizations they can only take/make a small percentage of the necessary calls; the others get handled by the rest of the team and you are back to square one.

Over the years, whether in my stores or in the stores of my many clients, I have proven over and over again that a well-managed call center/BDC will deliver better results with a better ROI.

That said, whether you have a call center/BDC or not, in order to be able to work the SF leads differently than traditional sales calls, you still have to have a plan. That plan must allow you to:

1. Implement a thorough daily training, coaching and management regimen for the use of the phone.
2. Accurately track all your sales activities.
3. Identify any incoming phone call as a traditional or credit call.
4. Create a system that allows all leads to be contacted by personnel trained to handle the calls within one hour of the dealership receiving the lead (during business hours) – within 15 minutes is ideal.
5. Use a call guide/word track for all credit leads to ensure proper execution and consistency for everyone working the calls.
6. Invite all credit call customers, regardless of their credit background, to the dealership, where they can be worked properly and with compliance.

As you can imagine, it is generally much easier to train and manage the above steps when dealing with a small, focused team of people – hence why a call center/BDC is usually more effective – but as long as you accomplish all six of the above, you will find success in SF.

Daily Training
Don’t roll your eyes at this. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. If you want to excel, you have to train daily. It is funny, the dealers who make it happen almost always excel.

Tracking Sales Activities
If you don’t measure, you can’t manage. “Seat-of-the–pants” statistics are never even close. I am amazed at how many dealers, even some successful ones, can’t seem to figure this one out. How many leads did you receive last month? How many SF opportunities called? How many came to the store? How many were contacted within an hour? How many were ever contacted? How many appointments were set? How many appointments were kept? How many were sold? Don’t hide behind the “our CRM isn’t set up right” or “it’s too complicated” excuse. My team was tracking this manually and accurately back when CRM meant “can’t remember much” and we used tick sheets.

Once you track it, coach from it. You will find people who are great at setting appointments but the customers never show up, or vice versa – people who can’t set many appointments but if they do, the customers will come in and, more often than not, buy. Use the information to help all team members overcome their obstacles.

Identifying the Caller
Most of you who read my writings already know my green balloon/red balloon analogy (good/bad credit). It is just as important to be able to make the distinction quickly on a telephone call. If you wind up going down the wrong road, your sale is doomed even if the customer does keep their appointment. Selling a particular vehicle or talking price, payment or any other specifics with a SF customer can box you into a corner you may never get out of. Your dealership needs a consistent method for distinguishing bad-credit customers from those with good credit, which should include a greeting that is scripted and used by every person taking an incoming call.

Reacting Quickly
Another reason for a call center/BDC is the urgency to quickly be able to contact an incoming lead. Time is of the essence as new leads go from green to ripe to rotten as quickly as a salesperson can say, “I am with another customer.” That is the challenge of sales personnel handling leads. SF leads need to be talked with, not emailed, and the goal should be to speak with the customer within 15 minutes of the lead’s arrival (during showroom hours), and one hour at maximum.

Your “talk-to” ratio is perhaps the most important ratio you have, as it involves the largest number in the equation. I work with a dealership that has one of the best appointment-setting, show and sale rates that I have ever seen. They can appoint nearly three out of four people they talk with, sometimes 80 percent. The problem is their contact rate is very low.  Assuming their other percentages would remain the same, simply raising their contact rate to the industry average would cause their sales to jump by 30 units per month!

Call Guide/Word Tracks Work
What you are looking for here is consistent execution of a planned call to set an appointment that shows. Greet, build rapport, use a couple of verifying questions to continue building rapport, give choices for an appointment time, then set the hook by having them write down and read back the stips you would like them to bring in. The call should last three-and-a-half to five minutes, and that is all. It needs to be guided.

The team that most consistently executes a good game plan generally wins the game. Call guides or word tracks ensure that consistency. My stores set thousands of appointments using word tracks. Whether delivered by salespeople or the BDC, when a call came or went the call guides were in play. A quick glance helps even the most experienced salesperson instantly focus on where the call is supposed to go even though immediately before the call their mind may have been on another planet. Not even the best are immune to those situations. It also helps less-experienced people watch the call flow and helps them maintain control in the call while avoiding all the pitfalls. 

Bring in Everyone
One of the biggest flaws I see is when a call center, salesperson or even manager is trying to play junior finance manager and makes a decision that someone can’t buy, or just as bad, gets them approved before they set an appointment. I have more statistical studies than you can imagine on this and it absolutely will reduce your deliveries by a minimum of 33 percent if you don’t invite all customers in. I worked with an experienced SF dealer who was selling about 60 units per month on average, getting them approved or making a credit decision before they set an appointment. We changed that, and in less than 90 days they had doubled their sales.

Additionally, failing to invite all customers in could create a situation where you have to send adverse action letters to all those you didn’t.  You really don’t want to have to do that. Asking a customer for a co-signor or a large down payment over the phone can cause embarrassment, and they have no emotional reason to want to provide either. Bring them all in and you will have the ability to not only do a proper credit interview but also bring the emotion into the equation when they see and drive a nice, newer vehicle that they can now picture themselves owning.

I can’t begin to cover everything about the phone in one short article. If you would like a copy of the call guide that I used and which now has set easily over 1,000,000 appointments around the county, email me at [email protected] and I will be happy to send it to you. I happily take questions as well.

Until next month,
Smile before you dial!

Vol. 9, Issue 6